Dutch journalist faces 40 months in Panama jail for libel

handcuffs and judge gavel on brown wooden tableDutch journalist Okke Ornstein faces 40 months in jail in Panama after being arrested on a charge of criminal libel dating from 2012, website Nu.nl said on Tuesday.

Ornstein was arrested last Tuesday as he entered Panama where he lives. The libel charges followed articles on his blog Bananama Republic about the business practices of Canadian national Monte Friesner who lives in Panama City. The blog has since been closed down.

The Dutch journalists union NVJ has called for the charges to be dropped, saying a prison sentence ‘is against the fundamental principles of freedom of speech and the freedom of expression’. These principles are acknowledged as fundamental rights worldwide, the NVJ said.

Ornstein’s Dutch lawyer Channa Samkalden told Nu.nl that she is unclear why the sentence has been doubled from the 20 months first handed down to Ornstein in December 2012.

‘They say it is because the 2012 sentence is only now being carried out,’ said Samkalden. ‘But he has lived in Panama for year so we don’t know why he has been arrested now.’

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